One of the most powerful tools to make or break a nation is politics. A nation’s physical, mental, social, economic, and environmental state depends on the politics of a country. Colombia is one such country carrying centuries of history and generations of leaders and politicians who ruled this South American country. Colombia has been ruled and inhabited by various rulers with various backgrounds, philosophies, and motives. The most predominant and significant way to possess power in what that particular party stood for was demonstrated and exhibited through Columbian architecture. 

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Colombia city ©www.cntraveler.com

Politics had a major influence on the country’s architecture. With changing politics, Colombia has a huge array of architectural history that keeps shaping in parallel with the nation’s politics. Colombia’s architecture can briefly be categorized into 4 stages. 4 major shifts in the nation’s politics that influenced the architectural design and style of almost all the buildings ranging from government buildings to churches to housing etc.

  • Pre-Columbian period.
  • Colonial period.
  • Republican/Conservative period.
  • Modern/Liberal period.

Pre-Columbian Period

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Mesoamerican architecture, Pre-Colombian style © (Available on www.gohighbrow.com )

Before the conquest or the ruling began in the South American country Colombia, the native and the indigenous inhabitants of the country started establishing societies in central and north of South America around 800-400 BCE. Various indigenous cultures were a part of Colombian architecture. The Pre-Columbian architecture was termed Mesoamerican architecture, ideally holding temples like pyramid structures that were made out of locally available materials. 

One of the many Pre-Columbian civilizations was the Maya civilization. Maya civilization roots down to one of the first built structures that ever stood in Colombia. The inhabitants of the Maya civilization built structures based on the astronomical and cosmical alignments of the universe. They incorporated various built forms ranging from city planning to monuments to civic and agricultural planning. These indigenous Americans were the first people to start the Colombian architecture that was inclined towards their varied and diverse beliefs of the ancient time.  

Colonial Period 

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Christopher Columbus © (Available on www.thoughtco.com  )

For centuries before, native-indigenous Americans had civilizations with unique and traditional architecture that reflected their Native American art. The 3,000 years of this Native American civilization came to an end on August 1st, 1498, when the European conqueror Christopher Columbus entered the Gulf of Paria in Venezuela, planting the Spanish flag for the first time in South America. 

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Cathedral, Colombia © (Available on www.flickr.com  )

1499 was the year Europeans first entered the territory of Colombia. The Spanish made several attempts to influence the Native American settlements. The early 16th century gave rise to one of their most significant and permanent settlements, Santra Marta. Later in the 1530s, the Spanish Colonisation of the Americans began with the establishment of cities and kingdoms under the rule of conquistadors of Spain. First, the cities and kingdomsBogota and New Granadawere one of the first examples of Ancient Spanish Colonisation. 

Later during the years 1717-1739, various architectural buildings of governance were established. Many churches that were marked as the most important structures of the country Colombia reflect the influence of Medieval and Renaissance churches in Spain. Many other buildings in Columbia during the Colonial period adopted the Baroque style of architecture with elements of wood and wrought iron. The ancient and one of the 1st rulers of Colombia left their mark through various architectural buildings that reflected their Spanish influence all over Colombian Politics and Architecture.

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Republican Period

Colombia’s republican period had its phases of high and low. After years of struggle for independence, in 1819, the Congress of Angostura established the Republic of Gran Colombia, declaring it the winner of the longest war for Colombia. Later in the 1830s, the Republic of Gran Colombia dissolved. The Republic era of Colombia post-war had conflicts between the two major parties – The conservatives and the Liberals. Finally, in 1886, Colombia was named The Republic of Colombia. 

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Teatro Colon, Colombia (built-in 1892, Republican era) © (Available on www.lonelyplanet.com )
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Teatro Colon, Interiors, Colombia © (Available on www.bogota.gov.co )

Post-independent Colombia still served its links with Spain and looked out for inspirations for architectural and infrastructural development. They looked at England and then France for some new architectural modules. This began to be called an era of Republican architecture (Arquitectura Republicana). This era of architectural style lasted till the 20th century. The Republican architectural era saw changes in the style of buildings in Colombia with direct relation to the evolving architectural styles in Europe. This gave birth to the beginning of modern architecture during the last years before World War II (1939-1945). 

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Teatro Colon, Painted ceiling and Murano chandelier, Colombia © (Available on www.wikiwand.com )

Modern Period

In the 1930’s Colombia began to move towards modern architectural practices. The new Liberal party and its government pulled down many ancient buildings, tearing down the conservative past of Colombia. Until the 1940s, even after centuries of war and changing political parties and rulers, most Colombians still lived in single-family dwelling units that were constructed by cinder blocks, clay, cow manure, and hay. 

Under the Liberal governance during this period, terms like National architecture, International style of architecture came into prominence and was promoted by the Liberal government as a modern movement in taking Colombian architecture to the international level. Hence, placing Colombia on the world’s pedestal. 

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This international style of architecture promoted by the Liberal party was opposed to the conservative party. The 3 predominant features of international-modern architecture were: Architecture as a volume, Regularity in the facades of the modern buildings, and absence of ornamentation.

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Coltejer building-Colombia © (Available on www.greatbigcanvas.com )
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Maloka museum © (Available on www.bogota.gov.co )

The opposing political visions of the two dominant parties of Colombia- Liberal and Conservation were as follows. The conservative party opted for a strong centralized government in alliance with the Roman Catholic Church which was a conservative and limited franchise. Whereas the Liberals wanted a decentralized government that promoted the state’s rule rather than the church’s control over the democratic elements such as education and civil rights matters. 

Not being able to stand with the democratic commitments, Colombia’s history of governance was a widespread conflict. With almost equal periods of the ruling of the Liberal and Conservative parties, two civil wars till the late 1940s and 1950s, and the Military taking over the country for 3 times in history, set Colombia into a rough spot on global politics.   

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Colombian city line © (Available on www.istockphoto.com )

But since 2004, the situation in Colombia has shown some positive signs. After 10 years from then, in 2014, Juan Manuel Santos, who was an ex-liberal party member, was elected as the President of Colombia representing The Social Party of National Unity. He served from 2010-2018. In 2014 when Santos was re-elected for the second time, he revived important infrastructure programs. From then onwards, Colombia has seen developments in the areas of human rights, infrastructure, and overall security of the country.

Lately, Colombia has proposed the country’s goal for overall sustainable development. Colombia, in one sentence, shows us the timeline of struggles and victories of various rulers and their governance that influenced the architecture of the country. Looking at the skyline of Colombia with various buildings and monuments from different era’s showcasing their journey brings us to a conclusion about how the country’s architecture was inclined towards changing politics.

Colombia today stands with a history of struggle, leaping faithfully into the future. Colombia’s architecture is an amalgamation of its timeline. The politically inclined architecture of Colombia shows us the adversity of the country’s politics with respect to its context.  

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References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Architecture_of_Colombia 

https://urbanage.lsecities.net/essays/colombia-fluid-futures 

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www.academiccommons.colombia.edu 

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/apr/11/colombia-architecture-bogota-medellin 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colombia 

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https://gohighbrow.com/pre-columbian-architecture/ 

https://www.britannica.com/art/Latin-American-architecture 

Author

An architect, academic & an aspiring writer. Anvitha believes architecture is a way of life & written communication acts as a medium in connecting people & architecture. Embracing the other side of her life, she loves travelling, cooking , singing , dancing & is dying to be a dog parent one day.

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